The Northfield Public Library has seen most of its 60,000-plus books, CDs and DVDs go out the door this month.

It’s not a massive run of checkouts or a summer reading program gone wild. Instead, the library has packed up and moved its entire collection, with help from dozens of volunteers, to make way for renovations.

The updates will cost an estimated $2.8 million, and the 105-year-old landmark will be closed until the projects are finished early next year. City officials are reviewing contractors’ bids for the library project and expect to present options to City Council on Aug. 4.

A temporary location with 10,000 of the library’s most popular items opened July 13 in the training room at Northfield City Hall. Library patrons also can continue their above-average per capita use of statewide and southeastern Minnesota interlibrary loan systems, Library Director Teresa Jensen said. The rest of the library’s materials are stored in a warehouse in Dundas, Minn.

The Northfield library improvements will make the building more efficient, build in flexibility for the future and create more and better gathering spaces, Jensen said.

The first-floor meeting room, which Jensen likened to a “basement dungeon lunchroom,” will get an update. There will be more room for the children’s collection. And a new two-story, glass-enclosed atrium will be constructed on the front of the building facing Washington Street.

The atrium, the biggest change to the building, will offer patrons room to read, meet and attend concerts and other events, Jensen said. It also will house the staircase. The plans were developed by Sara Rothholz Weiner of Rothholz Architecture and Design and Michael Roehr and Chris Schmitt of RoehrSchmitt Architecture.

“This space is going to be very much used as a common space where people can read, study and check newspapers out,” said Bill North, a member of the Friends and Foundation of the Northfield Public Library. “It will be very welcoming in terms of lots of light, nice comfortable furniture and really have that community center feeling as well.”

‘Long time coming’

The renovations mark the first major change to the building since a 1984 expansion that tripled the size of the library — originally built with a grant from steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie — to almost 12,000 square feet, Jensen said.

“This project has been a long time coming,” Jensen said. “There have been five different studies since 1998 on the feasibility and what should be done.”

A 2008 study called for expanding the library to 30,000 square feet, Jensen said. But that idea failed to win political or popular support, she said, in part because of residents’ attachment to the original library in downtown Northfield overlooking the historic district.

“People were not interested in a library of that size,” Jensen said. “(The building) is incredibly charming, and that would have changed the whole flavor of downtown.”

When the library reopens, it won’t be that much larger than it is today, Jensen said. Lots of new space isn’t necessary because of the increasing use of electronic resources and technology that take up less space.

Community support

The Northfield City Council allotted $1 million for library improvements, Jensen said. The city library board and the Friends of the Library used that as seed money to kick off a fundraising campaign that brought in $835,000 in less than a year. The city has since added several hundred thousand dollars to add fire sprinklers and make other changes that will bring the library up to modern building codes.

“Northfield loves its library, so to raise private funds to complement the city’s investments in this municipal service and building was pretty easy actually,” said Margit Johnson, chair of the Friends of the Library.

Donations have ranged in size, and none has been too small. An anonymous youngster gives part of his allowance every month — sometimes a $5 bill, sometimes five $1 bills.

“That donation has been highly valued, as have some truly staggering five- and six-figure donations that have come in from individuals and families,” Johnson said.

 

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail is todd_nelson@mac.com.